Before You Send Your Manuscript Out to Readers (or Publishers) by Tristi Pinkston

So you’ve gotten your manuscript ready to go out to readers. You’re excited because you know how close you are to being ready for submission . . . you’ll get this feedback, you’ll make the suggested changes, and you’re finished, right?

Well, pretty close. But don’t think this step is going to be a piece of cake. That’s a mistake a lot of writers make—they hurry and get the manuscript out to readers before it’s really ready.

Here are some tips to help you get that manuscript as ready for readers as you possibly can—keeping in mind that if you take out the glaring problems now, your readers will have an easier time spotting the more complex problems.

1. Go through and do a search for “was.” Most of the time, when the word “was” is used, you can change it to more of an active voice. Instead of saying, “She was sitting on the porch,” say “She sat on the porch.” This brings your reader into closer contact with the story, and it eliminates the repetitive use of “was.”

2. Go through and do a search for “that.” Most of the time, “that” is used when it’s not needed. “She thought that he’d be there to pick her up at three.” Take it out and see what you’ve got … “She thought he’d be there to pick her up at three.” It’s the same thing, but “that” gets repetitive and makes your sentences wordy.

3. Go through and make sure all your punctuation is still there. I’ve noticed when I edit for people that as they take out words they’ve been told to take out, sometimes the punctuation gets taken along with it, erased accidentally by the cursor being in the wrong place.

4. Go through and take out fully 3/4 of your adverbs. Keep only the ones that are absolutely needed—most are indicated by the context, anyway, and aren’t necessary.

There you have it—four steps to help make your manuscript ready for readers. These aren’t the only things to watch out for—there are many—but these are the most common mistakes and the most common detractors from the story. With these things out of the way, your readers will be able to concentrate on the things that remain and help you polish the story until it shines.

Tristi Pinkston is the author of nine published books, including the Secret Sisters mystery series. In addition to being a prolific author, Tristi also provides a variety of author services, including editing and online writing instruction. You can visit her at or her website at

Writing Devices by Rebecca Talley

You can change the feeling of your writing by employing some writing devices.

For example, if you are writing a tense scene where the protagonist is being threatened, short, choppy sentences will enhance the feeling you’re trying to create. Fast-paced scenes need shorter sentences to convey that quick movement. Think of a quickened heartbeat and you get the idea of how your sentences should be constructed.

Conversely, if you’re writing a love scene you’ll want to have longer, more flowing sentences to add to the romantic feel of the passage. Draw the scene out by using more words, even flowery descriptions, to communicate a sense of love and romance.

Other writing devices include:

Alliteration: using several words with the same beginning sound/letter. Example: “Across the arid Arizona desert she argued with herself for allowing him to confuse her again.”

Onomatopoeia: the word consists of the sound it makes. Example: “I heard the whoosh of the water a moment before it hit me.”

Anaphora: using the same word or phrase to begin three or more consecutive sentences. Example: “He knew she loved him. He knew she couldn’t live without him. He knew it was only a matter of time and she’d be his.”

Asyndeton: when using a list of three or more items, omit the conjunctions. Example: “I was happy, jubilant, carefree, innocent.”

Polysyndeton: using conjunctions, such as “and” or “or,” multiple times in a sentence. Example: “She talked on and on and on.”

Epistrophe: using a key word or phrase at the end of successive sentences. Example: “She opened the front door, afraid he might be there. She tiptoed to the bedroom, afraid he might be there. She checked the basement, afraid he might be there.”

After you’ve written your first draft and it’s time to edit, you may want to include some of these writing techniques to enhance your writing.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children’s picture book “Grasshopper Pie” (WindRiver 2003), three novels, “Heaven Scent” (CFI 2008), “Altared Plans” (CFI 2009), and “The Upside of Down” (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at

To Outline or Not To Outline by Rebecca Talley

Writers are not only passionate about their writing, but many are just as passionate about whether or not to outline.

There are as many reasons to outline as to not outline. And, there are as many outlining techniques as there are writers. You have to ask yourself if you are an outline writer or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer. No one can tell you what kind of writer you are, you have to make that decision yourself.

Some writers feel that using an outline curtails their creativity and boxes them into writing the story a certain way. Other writers feel that an outline allows them to be more creative because they’ve already made sure the storyline fits together. Then there are the writers who do a bit of both, they have a general outline but allow themselves freedom to explore other plot lines as they write.

It doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are, only that you use a system that allows you to make the most of your creativity.

Perhaps, the word outline conjures up memories of high school or college classes that required the Roman Numeral way of outlining. While that is certainly one way to outline, it’s definitely not the only way.

One way to outline is to write a narrative synopsis of the story and then write a few sentences for each chapter. You can then see your story as a whole as well as picture what will be included in each chapter.

Another way is to outline each scene within the chapter. You can write down the scene goal, the obstacles faced in the scene, and the ending disaster for that particular scene.

You can use notecards and write a synopsis on each card for each scene. This allows you the ability to move around scenes and chapters.

Some writers use a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft’s Excel and write a sentence for each scene on each row. You can also include what characters are in that particular scene. This method allows you to not only move scenes around, but you can also save your original outline if you need to go back.

Another way to outline is to use a notebook and dedicate each page in the notebook to each chapter. You can write a few sentences to describe what happens in that chapter, which characters are involved, notes about the scenes, questions you need to answer, and specific details you want to include.

Something that’s been useful to me is writing a one-sentence description of my story. I keep that sentence close by to keep me on target as I write. I go back to that sentence over and over again.

The most important aspect is to use what works best for you. You can even combine some of these suggestions to create your own outlining system. Don’t feel like you have to stick with one system throughout your writing. Experiment to find what works best.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children’s picture book “Grasshopper Pie” (WindRiver 2003), three novels, “Heaven Scent” (CFI 2008), “Altared Plans” (CFI 2009), and “The Upside of Down” (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at

Random Writing Tip: Epiphany

There is no such word as “epithany”—nor is it “epifany,” nor “epuphany,” nor any of several other imaginative spellings I’ve seen in manuscripts (and on blogs and Facebook) lately.

Epiphany—as it’s most commonly used in stories and among writers—is when a character experiences a sudden moment of perception, insight or revelation of deeper meaning or direction.

An author might have an epiphany about a character or plot line.

A character might have an epiphany about the meaning of his/her life.

In the case of a character, it should be rare. Limit yourself to one per book.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Possessive [‘s]

Great to see someone else picking up on this! However, there’s something else that bothers me more, and that’s the mis-use of the ‘s. Because it’s sweeping across English-speaking countries, it’s even becoming prevalent here in Germany! There’s a shop not too far from where I live that proudly proclaims “Beauty and Nail’s.” Ugh! And recently, I’m sure I saw this line on the internet somewhere: “Who want’s to be a millionaire?” Holy flying cowpats!

Can you do a Writing Tip Tuesday about this? Help them, LDS Publisher, you’re their only hope! 😉

I have been guilty of adding or omitting the apostrophe—not because I don’t know better but because I’m typing too fast or my software does an auto-fix and guesses wrong.

However, on signage? NO EXCUSE!

The ‘s shows possession.

Example: Melanie’s comment was dead on.

If the word is plural, there is no apostrophe.

Example: Beauty and Nails.

There are some exceptions, for example, its vs it’s. The possessive its has no apostrophe. The apostrophe is only used in the contraction for it is.

Example: Its problem is that it’s confusing.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Effect vs Affect

Affect and effect are two words that get mixed up a lot.

First, let’s define the two words from

Affect is usually a verb, meaning:

  • To act on; produce an effect or change in: Cold weather affected the crops.

  • To impress the mind or move the feelings of: The music affected him deeply.

  • To attack or infect, as a disease: Rheumatic fever can affect the heart.

Effect is usually a noun, meaning:

  • Something that is produced by an agency or cause; result; consequence: Exposure to the sun had the effect of toughening his skin.

  • The power to produce results; efficacy; force; validity; influence: His protest had no effect.

  • A scientific law, hypothesis, or phenomenon: the photovoltaic effect.

  • Advantage; avail: used her words to great effect in influencing the jury.

  • The condition of being in full force or execution: a new regulation that goes into effect tomorrow.

  • Something that produces a specific impression or supports a general design or intention: The lighting effects emphasized the harsh atmosphere of the drama.

  • A particular impression: large windows that gave an effect of spaciousness.

  • Production of a desired impression: spent lavishly on dinner just for effect.

Even with the definitions, sometimes it’s hard to pick. Here are a few rules:

1. Use “affect” as a verb when you’re talking about influence.

  • Eating too many bon bons can affect your weight.
  • Running into a werewolf was really affecting her mood.

2. Use the “effect” if you’re talking about results or to describe something that was caused or brought about.

  • The effect of eating an entire pound of bon bons was immediate and uncomfortable.
  • I cannot effect change in my life without a huge bundle of cash.

3. Use “effect” whenever it is preceded by any of these words: a/an, and, any, into, no, the, take(n) (with or without an adverb).

  • Meeting a unicorn always had a calming effect on her.
  • The magic wand had an effect on the frog.
  • It’s all about cause and effect.
  • The werewolf had no effect on her mood at all.
  • The effect of the vampire bite was instantaneous.

Here is a quiz. See if you can get them all right.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Different From

You’ve been picking up on some common errors I’m seeing a lot of lately and handling them well. How about clarifying “different from” and “different than” sometime.

I lot of people use them interchangeably and see no problem with it. I’m a nit-picker.

“Different from” is almost always the correct one because it is used for simple comparisons between two things—and that’s a more common sentence structure.

Example: My book premise is different from the one that made the bestseller list.
(Comparing my book with another book.)

Example: My grammar preferences are different from a second grader’s.
(Comparing my grammar prefs with someone else’s.)

“Different than” is only acceptable when followed by a full clause.

Example: The publishing industry is different than it was twenty years ago.
(You would never say “…different from it was…” although you could say “…different from the way that it was…” but that’s cumbersome.)

Clear as mud?

Writing Tip Tuesday: It’s "Could Have"!

I was reading a partial the other day and the author used this sentence:

It could of been different.

Uhhnnn. (That’s the sound of the incorrect buzzer going off.)

“Could of” is wrong, wrong, wrong. As is, “would of” and “should of.”

My guess is this mistake originated from the contractions “could’ve/would’ve/should’ve” which sound like “could of/would of/should of” when spoken aloud.

  • Correct: It could have been different.
  • Correct: I would have eaten the pie but I was too full.
  • Correct: You should have gone to the movie with us.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Semi-Colons

I have a question for your blog. If this has been answered before, then just ignore it. If not:

How do you feel about the use of semi-colons in fiction, and how and when do you think they should be used?

Personally, I love semi-colons. They are so cute! (I could have sworn I’d talked about them before but couldn’t find it using the Search feature…)

I hate reading about semi-colons (and other grammatical stuff) because it’s so darn boring! And confusing. (Unless you’re a word nerd.) So I’ll try to make this easy.

The most general and widely applicable rule for semi-colons is: Use a semi-colon when you need a pause that’s stronger than a comma, but not as strong as a period.

The second rule for semi-colons is: Don’t use so many that they distract the reader with their cuteness.

There are a few other rules, too. Use a semi-colon when:

  1. Connecting two independent clauses (phrases that could be stand alone sentences) into one long sentence, without using a conjunction. (This is the most common usage, and IMHO, the only way it should be used in fiction.)
    Example: I looked into the vampire’s cold, black eyes; I was doomed.
  2. Connecting two independent clauses into one long sentence, while using a conjunction. This is only done when one or both of the independent clauses is really long or uses a lot of commas. (Most of the time, IMHO, it’s better to go ahead and make it two sentences.)

    Example: The vampire loved the flavor of types A-positive, B-positive, and O-positive blood; but AB-negative always gave him a stomach ache.

  3. When a sentence contains a long and wordy list. (Use this only in non-fiction, scholarly works. It’s just too cumbersome in fiction.) (It’s also telling, not showing.)

    Example: The vampire had lived under many identities during his six hundred plus years—a farmer in the 1600s, a lesser prince in the 1700s, a ship’s captain in the 1800s, a merchant marine in the early 1900s; most recently, he was posing as a dot com millionaire and that suited him just fine.

There are a few other times when using a semi-colon is acceptable, but they’re awkward and I don’t recommend using them that way in fiction. If you really want to know ALL the details of the semi-colon, do some research; look it up on Google.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Handling S~x

I want my book to be appropriate for my potential readers, but my main character is having a problem with a person who is s~xually harassing her. It is driving me crazy trying to figure out how to hint that this problem is happening without it sounding either prudish or too loose with my language. I really like how you handled the swearing situation when it comes to writing and being LDS. PLEASE HELP.

Dealing with s~xual situations in an LDS market is like walking a tightrope. We all have different comfort zones. Personally, I can handle it if characters go into the bedroom and close the door, but I don’t want to watch. As for s~xual violence—and I include harassment in that category—I need to know what’s going on, but subtle is better.

One of the best ways I’ve seen this handled is in Josi Kilpack’s book, Sheep’s Clothing, about an Internet predator who kidnaps a teenage girl. Josi writes, “The first time he touched her…” That’s all I needed to know.

Keep in mind that if you’re writing the scene in real time with sensory details, it’s going to draw the reader in, which will be offensive to some readers. If you have your character tell someone about the it, it allows for some distance between the reader and the event. This is one case where, in my opinion, telling is better than showing.

One thing I do when I’m going through a book that deals with possibly offensive material is to imagine my mother reading it. She’s your average LDS Relief Society sister and the target audience for most of the novels I work with. If I think she’d be offended and put it down, I lighten it up.

My best advice is to write your scenes the way you feel it best serves your story. If it’s too harsh, your publisher will let you know.

Readers, authors: How do you handle these types of situations? What advice to you have?

Writing Tip Tuesday: It’s "Piqued"!

Over and over I see this error:

His comment peeked/peaked/piquet my interest.

I see it a lot on blogs. I’ve also seen it recently in a couple of published books.

The correct spelling of this word is piqued, meaning, in this case, that his comment created an interest or curiosity in the listener’s topic.

Pique can also be used to indicate irritation, resentment, frustration, but this usage is less common in America English.

Writing Tip Tuesday: It is NOT "all of THE sudden"!

In the past month, I’ve read two books that use the phrase “all of the sudden” as opposed to the correct version, “all of a sudden”. In one book, the girl is young and a bit backward so I suppose I could give the author the benefit of the doubt and say she was speaking in the girls voice, so it was legit to use the incorrect variation which is sadly gaining way too much popularity. But in the other book it was narrative, not dialog.

What the heck? Both times it yanked me right out of the story!

I was all poised to write a scathing commentary on this but decided to Google it first and make sure I was still in the majority position. (Not that it matters, because I am still right and they are still wrong—but I wanted to impress you with the strength of my rightness.)

First link, I found this perfect article saying exactly what I wanted to say. So here it is:

It Is Not “All of the Sudden”!

by Tina Blue
March 30, 2002

Put simply, the idiom is “all of a sudden,” not “all of the sudden.” That may be all you need from me on this matter, so if it is, feel free to click on out of here.

Most of you probably don’t make this error, but I know you have seen it and heard it. What surprises me is not only how often I encounter this butchered idiom, but where I encounter it. I have read it in papers by graduate students in English, and I have heard it from the mouths of pretentious and pedantic newscasters and talking-head pundits on television.

It is difficult for young people to learn the proper forms when so much of the language they hear comes from the mass media, and the mass media so regularly offer up the wrong forms.

Even those young people who read are likely to do much of their reading in mass circulation newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, those who write for such publications are often not well-versed in matters of grammar and usage, and even those who edit their writings–if indeed much editing is done at all, which I am beginning to doubt–may not be quite as knowledgeable in those areas as we might wish.

“All of a sudden” is an idiom. There is no logical or grammatical reason why we say “all of a sudden” rather than “all of the sudden.” It’s just that, until recently at least, no native speaker of English would say “all of the sudden,” just as no native speaker of English would say “She was hit with a car.”

True, idioms are shaped by widespread usage, so that if enough people over a long enough period of time say “all of the sudden,” eventually that will become the preferred idiom, and someone many years hence will write an article deploring the fact that some benighted speakers and writers don’t know any better than to say “all of a sudden.”

But that day has not yet arrived, and until it does, the proper phrasing remains “all of a sudden,” and those who use “all of the sudden” will be marking themselves as imperfectly educated, or at the very least as careless in their use of language.

Here are other people who adamantly agree with me and Tina:

  1. WSU (See their whole list of common errors HERE)
  2. Grammarphobia

  3. The Grammar Logs (scroll down about mid page)
  4. and lastly, Urban Dictionary (where I get all my most valuable grammar information)

Update: Thanks to Th. for THIS LINK. My idiom can beat up your idiom any day! (You have to click the blue “Make a Fight” button for the really fun part.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Pay Attention

At every writers conference, workshop, or author presentation I’ve ever been to, when the floor is opened for questions to authors, one of them invariably is, “Where do you get your ideas.”

The answers range from the serious to the silly, but one that I really like is:

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” —Orson Scott Card

Your assignment as you go about your regular life today is to notice one thing—just one—that would make a good story.

(Okay, you can notice more than one, but notice at least one.)

Writing Tip Tuesday: Read Aloud


Read your manuscript aloud from start to finish. You will hear mistakes. You will find awkward sentence structure, names that are more difficult to pronounce than they are to read, unclear references, holes in scenes, etc.

Read aloud. Fix it. Repeat.

Reading your manuscript aloud is the second best self-editing technique.

The first best self-editing technique is to read your manuscript aloud to someone else.

When you read aloud to just yourself, you tend to tune yourself out. But when you read to someone else, you notice every single word.

This is why a good critique group, where you read your pages in front of the group, can be so powerful.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Dialog Tags

I have been taking a writing course where the teacher criticizes the use of “he said” or “she said” and prefers the use of character action to tell who is talking. I find that at times adhering strictly to action (as my teacher demands) over an occasional “said” tag line can create a cumbersome experience for the reader. Do we really need to show the reader every body movement the character makes? Isn’t it possible to tell you who is talking without weakening the story?

Dialog tags are used to remind the reader of who is speaking. Unless you have extremely individualized and unique character voices, you have to use something to differentiate speakers.

There are two types of tags:

The standard dialog tag, which attributes the dialog to a particular character using the “he said/she said” (or a variation thereof). The word “said” is nearly invisible to the reader and is therefore preferred over things like, “he shouted” or “she squeaked.”


  • “Get out of my way before I knock you down,” she said.

  • John said, “I’d like to see you try.” [a little less invisible when the tag comes before the dialog, but still okay when used sparingly.]

This type of dialog tag does not weaken the story, but neither does it move it forward or provide the necessary beats to keep your conversations from bouncing like a ping pong ball in play.

The action tag, which shows action by a character before, after or in the middle of speaking, allows the reader to assume that the acting character is the one speaking. This is a great way to add a beat, deepen characterization, and to disrupt the repetition of the bouncing he said/she said pattern.


  • LDS Publisher tossed her head and laughed. “That Anon is such a smarty pants!”

  • “I just don’t know what to think.” Kara brushed her bangs out of her eyes. “Is it possible? Could he really like me?”

I find that action tags are often underused—and I personally like them. Many books would do well to use them more often. I do agree with you that if used exclusively, they can become annoying and cumbersome, but perhaps not as much as you think.

Pay attention to dialog tags as you read your favorite books. When do they use one over the other? Ask yourself if it adds to the story or detracts. But bottom line—do what your teacher (or agent, editor, publisher) tell you to do.

Writing Tip Tuesday: How Do Mormons Swear?

Having recently seen several manuscripts where ‘swearing without swearing’ was not handled well (you can’t make up fake swear words unless you’re in a whole new world, like James Dashner’s Maze Runner), today’s Writing Tip Tuesday comes compliments of Day to Day with Valor Publishing. (Re-posted with permission from Valor Publishing.)

Are you writing for the LDS market? Mormons do swear differently from other people. If you want to write literature for Mormons, you have to tone it down. You will not get swear words past an LDS censor. And unless you’re a cartoon character, or writing an e-mail, you won’t get away with $%&#(@#*%&@!

But now you’ve got a problem. You’re writing a tense scene where Marco, the assassin from New York, has flown into town ready to do the job he’s been hired to do. Along with him he brings Fredo, his loyal sidekick. They’ve cornered their prey, a sniveling coward named Jones, and Marco brings out his gun. He puts the silencer in place, his movements slow, all the while watching the face of their hapless victim. He wants to prolong the agony as long as possible, and he knows by watching the beads of sweat roll off Jones’ face that his methods are working. He brings the gun up and prepares to shoot. As he pulls the trigger, the gun jams.

“Jeepers,” Marco says. “That’s rotten. Hey, Fredo, hand me another gun.”

“Rats. It sure is too bad your gun didn’t fire,” Fredo says, handing over another gun. “I bet you’re really disappointed.”

We sort of lost all the tension in that scene, didn’t we. Unfortunate.

Let’s try again.

As he pulls the trigger, the gun jams. Jones, eyes clenched tight, flinches, then slowly raises one eyelid. Marco flings the gun to the side, cursing under his breath.

“Give me another gun.”

Fredo removes his own firearm and hands it to Marco, taking the safety off in the transfer. Only a moment has gone by, long enough for Jones to feel relieved but not long enough for Marco to forget why he’s there.

“See you on the other side,” Marco said, pulling the trigger.

Notice how we switched it out and said “cursing under his breath.” We know he’s cursing, but we don’t know what he said. That is one way to interject a “swear word” into LDS fiction. Because Marco isn’t LDS, it doesn’t matter that he swears, as long as we don’t know what he’s saying.

You’ll find plenty of examples of how this is done as you read LDS fiction. The trick is, finding a way to keep the tension high without breaking it by sounding silly. If you can’t find a way to imply a swear word, evaluate if it really needs to be there. Use them only when the scene demands it. And, whatever you do, never use the term “yippee skippy” as an interjection. Please.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved by Valor Publishing Group, LLC.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Follow Your Bliss

Are you one of those writers who have been writing for years, and you have a zillion novel starts but nothing finished? That was me to a tee.

When I would bemoan this to my writers group, I was often told that I just needed to sit myself down in a chair and write. Get through it, no matter what it takes—bribes, threats, whatever.

I suppose there is some wisdom to this. The problem is, when I force myself to write, my writing comes out sounding, well, forced. Stilted. Unwieldy.

In the past few years, however, I’ve discovered that I work better, longer and more enthusiastically when I follow my bliss. I generally have two or three projects going at a time. When I get tired or stuck on one, I move to another one. I “go where the energy flows.”

What I’ve found is that I’m writing more and better—and I’m finishing things.

What works best for you?

Writing Tip Tuesday: NaNoWriMo

The most important step in writing a book is writing a book.

Seems obvious. But how many wanna-be writers never sit themselves down and actually write a book?

Lots. Most, in fact.

That’s why writing groups, book-in-a-month challenges (BIAMs), and NaNoWriMo are good things to consider participating in.

NaNoWriMo happens every November and it’s a fun writing challenge. If you’ve never heard of it, go check it out. Then come back here and let us know if you’re participating. If you want writing buddies, leave your username in the comments.

And just to make this a little more exciting, I have a prize—a book (not sure which title yet)—I’ll be giving away in a random drawing from everyone who lets me know they’re participating in NaNoWriMo and who successfully completes the 50,000 word goal.

Writing Tip Tuesday: The Snowflake Method

If you’re having trouble getting your basic novel idea worked out and expanded, you might consider trying The Snowflake Method.

This method of writing fiction will not work for everyone, but I’ve had some success with it and I’ve talked to other writers who have liked using it.

Basically, you start with one sentence, and then expand—making it more intricate and detailed as you go.

You can find complete instructions HERE. (I am not endorsing this guy’s products. This is a free info page and pretty much all you need to give The Snowflake Method a try.)

If you’ve tried The Snowflake Method (or decide to try it today), I’d really love to hear about your experiences.

  • Did it work for you?
  • What didn’t work?
  • How did you tweak it to make it fit YOU?
  • Is there another method you like better? Why?

Writing Tip Tuesday: The First Page

I cannot stress enough the importance of your first page, first paragraph, first sentence. It doesn’t need to be perfect during your first draft. But when you go back to revise, put everything you’ve got into that beginning.

The beginning needs to draw the reader in, captivate them, intrigue them, grab them around the throat in a death grip and not let go! If you can hold that grip through the end of the first chapter, you’ve probably got a story that the reader is going to finish.

Take a look at some of the first sentences of your favorite novels. One of my favorites is:

“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”

Okay, I’m an adult and I was intrigued. Imagine a teenager reading this—they would be enthralled. Which is good, because it’s from the very popular book, Uglies by Scott Westerfield.

Or how about this one:

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die—
though I’d had reason enough in the last few months—
but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.”

Say what you want about Twilight, but that’s a captivating opening line.

Or another of my favorites:

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered
she had turned into the wrong person.”

Having been there myself, I had to keep reading Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups.

Want to see more cool first lines? Click HERE.

Okay, not everyone is going to be captivated by the same first line. What does it for me may draw a “meh” from you. That’s okay. The point is, your first lines, paragraphs and pages need to start your target reader’s heart beating a little faster.

So practice. Write some good first lines and first paragraphs. If you want, you can post them in the comments, or on your blog with a link in the comments here. Or just tell us some of your favorite first lines from books you’ve read recently.

WTT: You Can’t Name a White Girl LaQuisha

—unless you have a really, really, really good reason and it better be an integral part of the storyline. Not just something made up as an excuse to have a unique and cutesy name.

Naming characters is important to your story and to your character development. You don’t want to spend weeks on it, but you also don’t want to just pull a name out of a hat and slap it on your character (even though my parents did that to one of my sisters).

One of the issues I’ve had lately (over the last 10 years) is weird names for the sake of being unique. I know this is a case of art reflecting life—I shudder at some of the names that show up on the Primary class rolls. But still, you’re not naming someone in real life. You’re naming a fictional character. You want something unique enough that it will be memorable, but not so weird that it pulls the reader out of the story every time they see it.

Here are 10 things to consider when naming characters (not necessarily in order of importance). When you break these rules/suggestions, you must do it for a really good reason that works with your story, not against it.

  1. Personality. I just read Vampire Academy last week and the main character’s name is Rose. It was not a good fit for me—too soft and sweet, even though this girl was definitely beautiful but with a thorny side to her personality. Every time I saw it, it pulled me out of the story line. Your name needs to fit the personality of the character. If you’ve got a vibrant, fun-loving character, something short and unique is a better choice than something long and traditional. If your character is morose, pick a name that’s slow and languid.
  2. Age. Fit the name to the age of the character. As a general rule, children usually have shorter names, while adults have heftier names. If you break the rule, do it because it’s right for the character. For example, Charles Wallace (Wrinkle in Time) isn’t usually a name you’d want to saddle a child with, but due to his personality, it works. If you’re writing about an 18 year old, you might want to Google popular names from 1990. If you’re writing about a fifty year old, Google names from 1959.
  3. Gender. Don’t give your hero a sissy name or name your heroine “Bob.” It’s more distracting than memorable. There are a lot of gender crossover names now. If you use one of these, make it clear what gender your character is way up front. I can’t remember the book now, but I encountered one of these recently. I guessed wrong and was in chapter three before I realized the main character was a girl. Not a good thing.
  4. Ethnicity. I love ethnic names when used appropriately. I think there needs to be more characters of color in our mostly white-bread LDS fiction. We’re slowly adding ethnicity to our stories. But as we do, it’s important that we pick names that match without stereotyping. (I mean really, not every Latino woman is named Maria.) To find a variety of ethnic names, just Google (ex: Latino names).
  5. Regionality. Be aware of your setting when choosing names. Did you know that in the south, Ryan is a girls name? In the west, it’s a boy’s name. Speaking of vampire stories, Sookie* is a great name for a psychic, southern, vampire-dating waitress. It’s memorable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard it before, but it works. Again, Google is your best friend for finding regional names.
  6. Historicalness. Okay, I know that’s not a word but I’m in a hurry. This is a two-parter. First, when in history is your story set? You’ll want to find a name that was in use during your time period. Google popular names from 1830, or whenever.

    The second part of this is how has this name been used in history. History colors names with certain character traits. For example, if you name a character Adolf, it may not immediately bring to mind characteristics of kindness, love and gentleness.

  7. Spelling. Don’t make up a weird spelling of a name just to be unique. I am so tired of seeing this in realistic fiction. I know that’s the trend in real life, but just show a bit of restraint. For example, Melynda is okay. As is Malinda. But Mylynda is a bit too much. Unless you’re writing SFF.

    When you come up with an unusual spelling of a name, run it past a few people and see how they will pronounce it. For example, Ginny. Most Americans will pronounce that with a hard g. Which is fine, unless you want it to be pronounced like Jenny. Which leads us to. . .

  8. Sound. What does the name sound like when you say it aloud? Another two-parter. First, will your readers pronounce it correctly. If your test readers don’t, you may want to clarify it in chapter 1 (rather than in book 4 of the series; but we forgive Rowling because she was writing for British readers, all of whom know how to say Hermione).

    Second, is it too hard to say out loud? Does it sound as pretty as it looks on the page. Again, this is something that is more critical for those writing SFF, but if you’re using unusual names for any reason, take this into consideration.

  9. Likeability. All of us have names we love or hate because of someone we know in real life. There are other names that stick in the public consciousness. For example, Flo. Who’d you see? (A red-headed southern waitress, right?) Be aware of the social connotations of names. You might want to avoid last names like Manson or Dahmer. Bundy might get your reader thinking of a killer or a loser couch potato. Run your names past a few people and see what image gets conjured up.
  10. Common. How common is the name? If you’re writing a realistic YA, stay away from names like Brandon and Tiffany. Find something a little more unique. Also be aware of names in popular books in your genre. This is when a writing critique group really comes in handy. A woman in my writing group once chose the name Alex for a young boy involved in a spy novel. She’d never read the Alex Rider series. Also, now is not the time to name your romantic hero Edward.

These are general guidelines to get you started. All of them can be ignored—if you have a good reason. Just make sure that reason works for your story.

*The “Dead” series by Charlaine Harris. I’ve only read one of these books. Too much sex for me.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Consistency

When writing an inspirational biography to an LDS audience, do you think it’s best to use serial commas?

A serial comma is when a comma is used in a series, for example:

I put caramel syrup, hot fudge, and whipped cream on my ice cream sundae.

The red one in front of the “and” is the one being asked about. I think. At least, whether or not to use this comma in a series is usually what people are asking about. Here’s the sentence without it:

I put caramel syrup, hot fudge and whipped cream on my ice cream sundae.

Either is correct, or rather, an argument can be made either for or against it. The use of this comma goes in and out of style, and different editors/publishers will have differing opinions. Most style guides will say to use it. Newspapers often do not.

You can read about it here and here and here.

The most important thing to remember about this comma is to pick one way of doing it and stick to it.

And by the way, it doesn’t really matter what you’re writing—biography, fiction, poetry—or who your audience—LDS or not, children or adult—although generally, non-fiction and more literary works use it, while more casual works often do not.

I’d check a couple of top sellers by established publishers in your genre (or the publisher you’re planning to submit to), see what their style is, and do that.

And no, it’s not a big enough deal for you to do it both ways and send one version to one publisher and the other version to another. Just do it one way, CONSISTENTLY—and they’ll tell you if they want it done the other way.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Regular Doses of Inspiration

I am sure that there are writers out there who can write in a vacuum. They don’t need a how-to book or a critique group. They don’t need support or encouragement or inspiration. And they certainly don’t need to be spending their money on anything that might give them a leg up in the publishing industry.

I’m not one of them.

If you’re not one of them either, I suggest subscribing to a writing magazine or newsletter. You can get one that specializes in your area of writing or a generic one.

I personally love Writer’s Digest. Eight times a year I get a little dose of writing inspiration—personal stories of successful writers, how-tos, industry info and more. I don’t just read the magazine, I actually try out their tips. If you don’t have the $$ for a subscription, go browse their site. They’ve got all sorts of freebies there, from articles, to tips and writing prompts, to links to other great sites and blogs.

I also used to subscribe to The Writer (although when I had to make a choice due to my budget, I dropped this one and kept Writer’s Digest). This mag also has tips and pointers and it comes monthly. The website has lots of free info, as well.

There’s another one I just heard about called Writer’s Journal. I haven’t actually read this one but it looks like it may have some good information. (Anyone out there subscribe? Let us know what you think in the comments.)

So, what’s the writing tip? If you need some regular inspiration and tips to keep you writing, subscribe to a good writing magazine and/or visit a writing website on a regular basis.

Are there other good magazines or newsletters you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments section.

WTT: What Should I Write?

Ideas for books come from a zillion places.

Sometimes a character just pops into your mind and refuses to leave. Their voice must be heard and you build your story around them.

Sometimes you’ll dream a scene, or an entire plot, and fashion your book from that.

Sometimes a current event on the news or something in your personal life will spark an idea. Or even reading a poorly written book.

But what if all you know is you want to write a book? Where do you start? How do you pick a genre or find a plot?

I recommend your first stop is your own bookshelf (or your library history). What do you read? What do you love? Divide your books into genres and count how many you have in each. The genre with the most books is the one you should be writing in.

Then I recommend googling that genre, learning about it. What are the best sellers? What are the typical story lines and conventions for that genre? I feel comfortable guaranteeing that somewhere in your study of the genre, you’ll stumble upon a spark that will start your book.